A global hotspot for crocodiles, turtles, migratory birds, and mangroves – Bhitarkanika Conservation Area, Odisha, India

Simon Costanzo ·
22 February 2019
Environmental Report Cards | Science Communication | 

Let us start this blog by saying that whenever
we travel to India, we are met with the warmest of hospitality from our
colleagues at the National
Center for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM)
. Dr Ramesh
Ramachandran, Dr Purvaja Ramachandran, Dr Ajit Pattnaik, and their wonderful team
always go above and beyond to ensure we have a wonderful and rich experience. So,
thank you NCSCM!

This trip to India was to begin the development of a report card for the Bhitarkanika Conservation Area in Odisha, a state in north-eastern India. This will be our third report card in India; we previously produced Report Cards on the Gulf of Kachchh and Chilika Lake.

Location of Bhitarkanika Conservation Area in north-east India. Credit: Google Earth

Our journeys began with long flights ending
in the city of Bhubaneshwar. Ramesh, Purvaja, and Ajit welcomed us at our hotel
and explained the itinerary for the next week. We would begin this trip with a
three-day visit to Bhitarkanika Conservation
, followed by a two-day stakeholder workshop in Bhubaneswar, and
finally a post-workshop debriefing with the core report card team in the city
of Chennai.

This blog focuses on the first part of our trip, which was the field visit to Bhitarkanika Conservation Area. The Conservation Area includes a national park, wildlife sanctuary, and marine sanctuary. This seemingly remote part of the world has some serious ecological credits to its name. Bhitarkanika is home to saltwater crocodiles exceeding 20 ft (6+ m), king cobras, fishing cats, monkeys, wild boar, spotted deer, water monitor lizards, jackals, and the world’s second largest mangrove ecosystem. There are 94 species of mangroves and mangrove associate plants— something NCSCM is very proud to protect.

Map of Bhitarkanika Conservation Area. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

Mangrove roots. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

After a nauseating four-and-a-half-hour drive through winding dirt roads filled with people, rickshaws, cows, and stray dogs, we finally arrived at the entrance to the park. Passing through the gate revealed a serene tropical landscape humming with life. We had left the hustle and bustle of the towns behind to find stands of mangroves, herds of spotted deer, countless bird species, and the occasional wild boar!

Entrance gates to Bhitarkanika National Park. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

That evening we took a sunset boat ride through some of Bhitarkanika’s creeks to spot saltwater crocodiles. You wouldn’t think it would be difficult to find a behemoth reptile on a creek bed, but their speckled brown bodies blend in surprisingly well with the muddy floor. After the first few sightings, we all got pretty good at finding them!

Boats along a Bhitarkanika tributary. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

Saltwater crocodile relaxing in the mud. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

Day 2 in Bhitarkanika was another boating
adventure. For this trip, we launched from a location further south than the
day before, at the Forest Department Gupti office. It took roughly three hours
to cruise up the creek before stopping at a dock tucked between mangroves. From
here we trekked 2 km out to a remote beach. Along the way, we saw oysters as
big as dinner plates and Telescopium mollusks.
Upon arriving at the beach, we explored a beautiful (but receding) mangrove
forest, feasted on traditional Indian foods, and listened to waves crashing on
the sand. Once we were refreshed, we hiked back to the boat and headed for the
park and bed.

An abandoned building on the beach we visited. A year ago the sand on the beach was a foot higher and reached the bottom step of this structure. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

Sunset on the boat. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

Stay tuned for a blog about Day 3 in Bhitarkanika and the Olive Ridley turtles we saw!

Katie May, Simon, and the NCSCM team. Photo credit: Simon Costanzo

This blog was co-written by Emily Nastase, Katie May Laumann, and Simon Costanzo

About the author

Simon Costanzo

Dr. Simon Costanzo is a Science Integrator at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge MD. Simon’s career in environmental science over the past 20 years has been focused on developing and improving methods for the assessment, monitoring and management of aquatic, marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Simon has extensive experience in scientific data collection, synthesis, interpretation and communication. Simon’s career has provided a unique insight to a wide range of disciplines and stakeholder groups including government, academia and private industry. Dr. Costanzo obtained his academic training from University of Queensland in Australia (PhD).

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